The story is told of a woman who has two small sons, one age five and the other almost three. During the holidays, the five-year-old was showing his little brother around the Christmas display at the church. “Here are the shepherds,” he explained knowledgeably, “and there are the sheep and the cows and the wise men. And here is Mary, she’s Jesus’ mother. And that’s Mary’s husband, Virg.”
A teacher, who was nearby, overheard and offered a correction. “Mary’s husband was named Joseph, dear,” she said, “not Virg.” The five-year-old wrinkled his brow. “Then how come,” he wanted to know, “they always talk about Virg and Mary?”
Today we hear of Mary and Joseph, certainly not Virg, on their way to Bethlehem. Read text.
As a child I had a horse. He was older, sweet and fun to ride. He lived at a friend’s house up in the hills. Twice a day he was fed hay in his trough which was long and wooded and attached to the side of the stall. It was not very clean, can’t tell you how often it was washed, but it was very important. At feeding time, he was right there to enjoy his meal, which meant that his trough was empty 95% of the time. I would give him apples and carrots when I came to ride, but most of his food was hay, because he did not have a pasture to graze.
When Jesus was born he was wrapped in cloth and laid in a feeding trough. Ponder that for a moment. A manger feels so much a part of the story we forget what it literally was- a feeding trough. When we envision this scene, baby Jesus is always nestled in clean hay, and dreaming peacefully. But since there is no mention of animals, even though we always assume they were there, I wonder who would have filled the trough. Because in my experience troughs are empty 95% of the time.
So why are we talking about troughs? Jesus’ first place of rest was in a manger, in a feeding trough. I believe that is important. God did not send his Son into the world into a palace, into luxury, into status or position. No. When Jesus is born he is displaced and the feeding trough is his first bed. Why? Three reasons come to mind. First the manger shows his humble beginnings, his lowly estate, so that no matter what position or lack thereof you have, Jesus understands you. Jesus knows what it means to start from nothing and to have faith be the defining trait, not money, nor power, nor privilege. Secondly, the manger is a sign. The angles tell the shepherds to look for a babe lying in a manger. The feeding trough is an unusual place to find a baby, but it is also how the shepherds are to know they have found Jesus. Taking a step back, Jesus starting in a manger also marks a shift in Luke’s story. As you recall, Luke opens with Zechariah and the birth of John. Here we see established power with a religious leader being made mute and the location being in the Temple. But when Jesus is born he is a Savior to all the people and his birth is set in a humble, common everyday place. And who comes to visit? The shepherds, people without standing in their own community. Jesus in a manger means he is available to us, no matter what has happened in our lives. The third reason for the manger is that it a place of feeding. Jesus is the bread of life, and his very first moment in the world, he rests in a feeding trough. To this day we turn to Jesus as our spiritual food, and his beginning marks the magnitude of what the incarnation means. Jesus equal to God emptied himself to take on human form (Phil 2:6-7), but his very first moment he lies in a feeding trough and not in a palace. Why? Because God loves us so very much that he seeks to be with us in our joy and in our sorrows, in our high points and our defeats, in our aspirations and our lowly beginnings. No matter how far down the scale you have gone, know that Jesus started in a feeding trough, only to rise to become our Savior and Lord.
The manger was a sign the angel told the shepherds about, but it is the response of the angel that really tell the story of this babe born in a manger. After quieting their fears, the angel along with a multitude of heavenly hosts praise God. The angel said, “Do not be afraid, I am bringing you good news of a great joy for all the people!”
Have you ever seen a flash mob? A group of people that suddenly appear at a mall or a special event and break into song and dance. I have seen flash mobs at weddings where the bridal parties express their joy in a celebrated and planned way. Well I think the heavenly host was the first flash mob ever. The angels were declaring Jesus God’s Son and then the heavenly host came as the first divine flash mob. Their message: Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among those God favors. Peace is the promise of the reign of the king just born. Jesus the Prince of Peace will subdue all threats and God’s vision of the world is one where peace is a reality. Angel and heavenly host. They herald Joy and Peace.
Jerry Botta expresses the wonder of Christmas in his poem Christmas Started that Way.
Lo, in a manger, away from all danger,
Asleep on a bed of hay,
Through this baby unknown God’s love would be shown.
Christmas started that way.
Shepherds drew near to worship with praise;
Wise men came from afar
Searching for answers, promise, hope.
They decided to follow His star.
That journey would lead to a manger- a Lamb.
The cross was the price he would pay;
Forgiveness of sin, new life to begin,
Christmas started that way.
So which star have you chosen to follow
As you journey through life everyday?
Come to the manger, away from all danger.
Yes, Christmas started that way.
Christmas did start that way. The manger was empty, the stable was empty, but that first Christmas day God filled the manger with hope, God filled it with love, God filled it with Jesus. What will you find in the manger? My prayer is that you will find that God loves you
No matter your station
God loves you no matter your sin.
God loves you no matter your origins and that in every moment of every day you sense the love of God born to us in a manger. Merry Christmas and may God’s peace rest in your heart and within your family. Amen.